Google’s earnings for the second quarter of 2013 reminded me that the search giant faces some challenges.
Expenses moved up a couple of billion dollars from the same quarter in 2012. (See http://venturebeat.com/2013/07/18/after-a-quarter-of-huge-momentum-goog-posts-14-11b-in-revenue). More troubling, Business Insider said, “The total number of paid clicks that Google gets continues to go up, but Google gets paid less for each one. In other words, Google’s rock is still rolling up the hill but it takes a lot more energy to maintain that momentum than it used to.” (http://www.businessinsider.com/this-is-why-google-missed-its-q2-revenue-expectations-2013-7)
Google may have to do some fast dancing with its current short term pricing and also with its innovations over a longer period of time. It’s no surprise that the competition is nearing. For example, Microsoft is working on a wristwatch smartphone described in “Microsoft Testing Surface Watch”. (See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10185372/Microsoft-testing-Surface-watch.html).
Perhaps this urgency is the reason Google has been pushing forward with Google Glass’s next version. On the recent quarter’s earnings call, Larry Page, Google’s senior manager, said: “I love using Glass because I feel like every time I’m using Glass I’m living that future, that’s really, really exciting to me.” (See http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-googles-larry-page-over-the-moon-about-glass-and-other-moonshots-20130719,0,219679.story).
Have I inadvertently glimpsed one possible trajectory for Google Glass? Is Google leapfrogging smartphones as wristwatches and moving beyond contact lenses and belt packs? Is Google looking to make revenue waves in medical diagnostics, nanomachines, and possibly DNA-scale communication devices? Google Glass might just be lapping our ideas of science fiction. Perhaps that $2 billion jump in R&D an indication that clean rooms, new research facilities, and world-class nanotechnology experts are signaling a new direction for Google. It’s not unthinkable they are dipping into nano-bioengineering and synthetic biology. Could Google become a nanotechnology giant? I found some interesting open source intelligence which may help frame this question, but I only know one thing for certain: Google is not doing much talking about self-assembly, bioengineering, and nanotechnology.
A month ago, I was sitting in Hotel Zetta near Union Square watching for Glass owners and reading on my iPad an article about Microsoft’s answer to Google Glass. Glass, as you probably know, is a smartphone converted to a heads up display. A Glass user dons a pair of eyeglasses and voilà, the smartphone display is hovering in the Glass wearer’s field of vision. The gizmo is controlled with voice commands like “Okay, Glass” or by touching the temple of the eyeglasses. While intriguing, Glass is not perfect. But regadless, Google’s clever public relations machine has propelled the new tool into headline news status, sending the tech savvy world in a frenzy. Google, once again, is delivering the future. Sure, Glass reminded me of the robot’s enhanced vision in The Terminator, but the form factor was almost a dead ringer for the eye wear of Geordi La Forge in the sci-fi blockbuster Star Trek: The Next Generation and its feature films.
The young person sitting next to me in the hotel lobby knocked a pile of photocopies to the floor. I put down my iPad and helped the person pick up the scattered papers. One photocopy was a big fat book chapter or technical article. I glanced at the title and noticed the word “self-assembly.” I asked them if I could copy down the title of the thick photocopy. The person said, “Sure, it’s from a textbook.”
The chapter was called “Using Biomolecules for Self-Assembly of Engineered Nano-Scale Structures and Devices.” I had some time to poke around and I was able to locate a PDF of the information written by Ranjana Mehta, John Lund, and Babak A. Parviz. The “Parviz” name triggered in my memory the fact that the Google Glass project lead was a fellow named Babak Amirparviz. Was this the same person? If so, why two different names?
I remember that in my past Google research, I discovered that often times when Google hires a smart person, they—for some reason—publish under a modified name. Examples include Alon Levy (dataspaces expert) becoming Alon Halevy and Charles Lee (Glass business development professional) working as Steve Lee. Was Dr. Babak Parviz the same person as the head of Glass, Dr. Babak Amirparviz? I poked around and learned, interestingly enough, that it was the same expert.
When I surfed through my collection of Google open source documents, I noticed that Dr. Parviz/Amirparviz delivered a lecture at a conference about putting electronic devices on a contact lens. The talk was from 2008 and a version of that presentation was published by the IEEE in 2008 as document 978-1-4244-1793-3/08 with the title “Contact Lens with Integrated Inorganic Semiconductor Devices.”
Dr. Amirparviz is the Glass project manager. Does it make sense that a world-leading expert in self-assembly, fluidics, and nanotechnology, would confine his efforts to the clunky eyeglasses form factor? Isn’t the trajectory more likely to be from the eyeglasses to a contact lens and then to even smaller devices?
Obviously, a users may not tolerate a contact lens version of Glass. This begs the question: is there a way to put a smartphone or, at least, most of its components into a much smaller form factor? I began wondering whether the display required to generate the augmented reality display could be presented as part of the eyeball itself. I recalled that a UK newspaper writing about a Glass engineer stated:
“[Thad] Starner met Larry Page and Sergey Brin, cofounders of Google, in 1998, and they talked about how cool it would be to have a computer in your eyeball. Later, Page offered him a job with Google.”
Dr. Starner is a member of the Glass team. The York Dispatch added, “His doctoral work, titled “Wearable Computing and Contextual Awareness,” dealt with pattern recognition and how wearable computing can be used for purposes such as recognizing hand motions used in sign language.” (Source: http://www.yorkdispatch.com/news/ci_20750762/)
But the book chapter I spotted on that café floor continued to suggest a more significant application of the wearable computing idea, perhaps one beyond a contact lens. The answer, in part, may be tucked into the dense language of Dr. Parviz/Amirparviz’s work. I tracked down the source of the “self-assembly” chapter. “Using Biomolecules for Self-Assembly of Engineered Nano-Scale Structures and Devices” appeared in Nanofabrication: Fundamentals and Applications edited by a fellow with a memorable name, Ampere A. Tseng. The book was published in 2008 by World Scientific.
The main point of this particular chapter written by Dr. Parviz/Amirparviz and two associates is that nanoscale self-assembly makes possible components and devices. The work of Dr. Parviz/Amirparviz is focused on implementing devices which are at the nano-scale. “Nano” refers to a nanometer, one-billionth of a meter. These can be built using nano assembly. Chemistry and physical properties become the methods for hooking, connecting, and coating nano-scale components. If Dr. Parviz/Amirparviz is correct about nanotechnology, Google Glass and related implementations will follow a miniaturization trajectory which propels devices to get smaller and smaller, such as those that can be embedded in a button or swallowed. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told a conference audience last year that he would swallow robots in the future (See http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/blog/2012/10/eric-schmidt-plans-to-swallow-robots.html), and for those not so eager to ingest them, they can also be injected into a living organism.
Let’s assume that this steady march to miniaturization is motivating companies like Google to hire experts like Dr. Parviz/Amirparviz. What are the implications for professionals using computer technology?
First, the traditional devices will not go away, but the manufacturing processes are likely to undergo significant change. Opportunities will be created, but some companies may find that their products and services cannot be easily reengineered to meet the micro-scale and nano-scale future.
Second, the emergence of self-assembly may drive the cost of semiconductors to even lower prices than one can find in the store today. The proliferation of low-cost, powerful computing devices melts away barriers to ubiquitous computing.
Third, the data generated by large numbers of tiny devices which can communicate means that Big Data will become Even Bigger Data. One application area alone, like medical monitoring, creates a flow of high-value data which will require new approaches to collating and analyzing the outputs of nano-scale monitors.
Fourth, the notion of wearing goggles or putting an uncomfortable lens in one’s eye to make a phone call or look up a location on a digital map becomes as old fashioned as the brick cell phone. The new approach will be to have nano-devices assemble themselves in one’s eye.
The goal is not glasses. Glasses, clearly, are just a bridge to the goal. And that goal may be to embed a computer in your eyeball.
I must admit that these implementations are likely to be years, maybe decades in the future. I think I will skip the smartphone watch and smartphone contact lens. A nano-device sounds just right to me. The interesting thought is that for many young people, a nano-device will be the obvious choice. Only old people carry a smartphone, wear a watch, or insert a contact lens.
Nano-devices are likely to be hotter than the latest Nike sneaker which talks to an iPod.
Stephen E Arnold is a consultant providing strategic information services. You can find examples of his copyright free information at www.arnoldit.com/wordpress. For an in-depth briefing on topics related to Google Glass, contact him at seaky2000 at yahoo dot com.
Citizentekk, July 2013 submission from Stephen E Arnold © 2013 Stephen E Arnold
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